How Karate Compares with Other Martial Arts

There are many different types of martial arts, but probably the most popular around the world is karate. This Japanese martial arts form has become mainstream after the success of “The Karate Kid,” the iconic action movie from the ’80s that inspired countless dojo openings and yellow belt ceremonies. But even though you don’t watch action movies, you probably heard of the “karate chop.”

If you’re contemplating a specific form of martial arts to learn, you probably want to understand how karate differs from other popular forms of martial arts.

What is Karate?

Kids training on karate-do. Banner with space for text. For web pages or advertising printing
Kids training on karate-do. Banner with space for text. For web pages or advertising printing

Karate is a form of martial art developed in Okinawa, Japan, that stresses striking techniques, such as punching, kicking, elbow and knee strikes, and open-handed techniques like knife-hands (karate chop), spear-hands, and palm-heel strikes. The major traditional styles of karate are Shotokan, Goju Ryu, Shito Ryu, and Wado Ryu.

The word “karate” means “empty hand” due to the lack of weapons used in the sport and also due to the focus on unburdening the mind. The psychological elements of karate practice are equally as crucial as physical movements. Karate emphasizes a positive attitude development in the form of virtue, leadership, perseverance, respect for others, and goal-setting.

Karate vs. Taekwondo

Martial Arts sport training in gym
People in a gym in martial arts training exercising Taekwondo, the trainer has a black belt

Taekwondo is a Korean art of self-defense and is one of the oldest forms of martial arts. The name itself means “the way of kicking foot and smashing fists.” It involves learning a system of kicks, punches, blocks, and open-handed strikes, as well as different forms of take-downs, throws, and joint locks. All these develop speed, strength, balance, flexibility, and stamina.

Neither karate nor taekwondo puts emphasis on weapons. The most significant similarity is that both arts focus on striking. Both teach kicks, blocks, and punches.

In comparison to taekwondo, karate tends to focus more on hand strikes, while taekwondo emphasizes kicking techniques. Many forms of taekwondo are related to jumping and spinning kicks, whereas some aspects of karate focus on the simple yet effective strikes that come with less margin of error.

Karate allows the person to defeat their opponent by two methods: striking and kicking. A karate practitioner needs mental and strenuous physical discipline. It’s a system of self-defense that relies entirely on the use of an unarmed body. Meanwhile, taekwondo is popular for using kicking techniques, as it believes that the leg is the strongest and longest weapon a martial artist has.

Karate has all the fundamental movements present in its learning system. Basics include stances, kicks, punches, blocks, and strikes. On the other hand, taekwondo is taught in two different forms: sparring and kata. Sparring is full-contact fighting, while kata is a form of a choreographed routine of martial arts movements.

Karate vs. Kung Fu

An Asian man wearing a Kung Fu uniform
Asian man wearing a kung fu uniform

Kung Fu is a modern term that encompasses a number of fighting styles that have developed over the centuries in China. Some Kung Fu styles include physical exercises that mimic animal movements, while others are inspired by legends, religions, and Chinese philosophies. The styles and origins of Kung Fu and karate are somewhat common, which causes constant comparison between the two.

Karate was developed in Japan out of a martial arts practice called “te,” which involves hand movements, and it was then further influenced by the Chinese martial arts style, which explains the connection between the two martial art forms.

Karate is considered to be more linear in motion, while Kung Fu tends to be more circular. This means that in karate, your movements will take you forward with momentum towards your opponent, while Kung Fu motions shift weight laterally and rely more on reacting to the target’s attacks. Karate is a more offensive martial art and can be used efficiently to harm an opponent, while Kung Fu is more useful in situations where you need to stop an opponent.

Also, there’s a big difference in the way the practitioners dress. Karate uniforms are a more commonly seen martial artist uniform – white jacket, white pants, and a colored belt that depends on the skill level. A karate uniform also doesn’t differ much from uniforms of other martial art forms. Meanwhile, Kung Fu uniforms are more colorful. It comprises of different style tops with frog buttons.

Karate vs. Jiu-jitsu

Two Men in Jiu-Jitsu training
Two men practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Jiu-jitsu is a Japanese martial art for fighting an armed and armored opponent in which one uses no weapon. Jiu-jitsu practitioners neutralize an enemy with joint locks, pins, and throws by using an attacker’s energy against him rather than opposing it directly, just like in karate. In this martial art, there are five main areas of training: blocking, escaping, striking, fulcrum throw, and non-fulcrum throw.

Jiu-jitsu is a style with a heavy emphasis on ground fighting. In this martial art form, practitioners usually spend most of their time on the ground, trying to get their competitors to submit and gain dominance over them. It also puts an emphasis on chokes and locks to gain leverage on the attacker.

Meanwhile, karate is striking-based and puts less emphasis on groundwork and more emphasis on the standing phase. Karate practitioners will spend more time practicing hard and linear movements. It focuses more on the kicks, punches, and demonstration of strength.

Karate vs. Aikido

Fight between two aikido fighters
Fight between two aikido fighters on black

Considered a grappling martial art, aikido is a modern Japanese martial art performed by flowing with the attacker’s motion and using it to defeat them instead of opposing it straight on. This requires less physical strength, as the practitioner directs the attacker’s momentum with turning and entering movements, followed by different throws or joint locks.

This art was created so that the practitioners could defend themselves while also protecting their attackers from injury. According to the founder’s philosophy, aikido’s primary goal is to overcome oneself instead of cultivating aggression or violence.

Aikido and karate have concepts that come from opposite ends of the softness and hardness spectrum. Aikido is classified as one of the soft martial arts, while karate is considered a hard technique. But these two share a lot of similarities.

A karate student needs to perform basic punches to develop muscular strength from the start. This movement helps them relax while punching and only putting strength at the end. Then, they need to align these punches with their body movement in a relaxed manner. The punches generated look soft but are actually strong.

Aikido shares the same concept with karate. At each level of training, students are taught to use a smaller amount of power while performing the techniques more efficiently. They are starting from a rigid, hard state into a more efficient, economical, and relaxed state.

The main difference between karate and aikido is their focus. Karate emphasizes striking and attacking the opponent, while aikido focuses on grappling and softness.